Every part of your body needs blood to survive. Blood brings the oxygen and nutrients to our tissues to keep them healthy and strong. In order to deliver the blood throughout the body, a huge network of blood vessels is required. This network is our arterial system. Unfortunately, these vessels can become clogged and damaged. When this occurs, not enough blood is transported to the tissues of our bodies which can lead to serious consequences. If the blood vessels to the heart become clogged, a heart attack occurs. Damaged blood vessels that transport blood to the brain can lead to a stroke. Poor circulation to the legs and feet is known as peripheral arterial disease, or PAD. This can lead to pain, disability and even amputation.
Why do blood vessels become clogged? There are many causes. High cholesterol and triglyceride levels in the blood are an important cause. Many people inherit the tendency to have high levels; however, eating a healthy diet is an important factor in keeping cholesterol and triglyceride levels in a good range.
Other factors that have been implicated in leading to hardening of the arteries include: cigarette smoking, high blood pressure and a lack of exercise. People with diabetes are at much greater risk for developing arterial disease. The American Diabetes Association recommends all diabetics fifty years and older be screened for this condition.
Signs of Poor Foot and Leg Circulation
An important sign that someone is developing problems with the arteries in the legs is pain in the calf. This usually occurs after walking a particular distance. For example, someone may develop pain or cramping in the calf each time they walk for five minutes. Stopping to rest allows enough blood to return to the muscles and the pain goes away. Further walking will cause the soreness to return. This is known as intermittent claudication. Unfortunately, many people have PAD but they do not have this warning sign.
As the peripheral vascular disease worsens, the skin on the feet will become less supple and hair growth on the foot will stop. The skin will feel cool to the touch and have a shiny appearance. Abrasions, skin cuts and other foot problems will be slow to heal or will not heal at all. In severe cases gangrene will develop necessitating amputation.
Treatment of Peripheral Arterial Disease
If you suspect you have PAD, talk to one of our doctors about an important screening test that can diagnose PAD. If you do have PAD, you will need to be evaluated by a doctor who specializes in treating the arteries. The vascular specialist can determine the extent of the problem and work with you to develop the best plan for your treatment.
A key to the treatment of this problem is exercise. When you exercise, your muscles need increased blood. Your body can respond to this need by developing new blood vessels. If your calf hurts after five minutes of walking, you should walk six minutes to stimulate your body to grow more blood vessels. When you can walk six minutes before the soreness occurs, push yourself to walk seven. Before starting an exercise program, be sure to check with your primary care doctor.
If you smoke….quit. Smoking causes arteries to become damaged. Additionally, each time you smoke, the nicotine you inhale causes blood vessels to constrict. This means even less blood is reaching the tissues in your feet.
Work with your primary care doctor to get your triglyceride and cholesterol levels into the proper range. If you have high blood pressure, make sure you are following your doctor’s recommendations.
If there is too much blood vessel blockage, surgery may be needed to improve the blood flow to the legs and feet. Surgery can be as simple as a minimally invasive procedure to widen a narrowed artery or as complex as a bypass of an obstructed artery.
Peripheral arterial disease is a problem that can be prevented. Follow these steps to help prevent PAD:
- Do aerobic exercise at least three times a week. Exercising every day is even better. Good examples are running, walking, cycling and using an elliptical machine. Any exercise that uses your legs and elevates your heart rate will work. Again, prior to starting a new exercise program, be sure to check with your primary care doctor.
- Do not smoke.
- Follow a heart healthy diet: keep fat consumption moderate, utilize whole grain foods and eat lots of fruit and vegetables.
- If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, work with your doctor to keep these problems well controlled.
We Can Help
If you think you might have poor circulation in you feet, give our office a call. Our doctors can evaluate your circulation. If you do show signs of PAD they can help get you started on the path to improved circulation.